What Is Agnosticism?
People who follow agnosticism are referred to as agnostics. Agnosticism is not exactly a religion, but more like a set of beliefs surrounding the absolute knowledge that a god or supreme being actually exists. The premise of agnosticism is that humans do not have enough knowledge of the world, the universe, or the supernatural to claim the definite existence or non-existence of a supreme being. Agnosticism deals primarily with knowledge and evidence, rather than with beliefs.
Agnostic beliefs date as far back as the 5th century BC, when philosophers from both Greece and India began to question the human origin story, the existence of gods, and the idea of a life after death. Despite this long history, the term agnostic was not created until the late 19th century. This word, in its literal definition, means “without knowledge”. This ideology is rooted in the scientific belief that evidence is required for true knowledge to be obtained.
Agnosticism And The Scientific Method
The agnostic approach to understanding life, death, and what happens after is very scientific in nature. It first begins with basic doubt. In other words, all claims must first be questioned rather than believed. This step is followed by establishing a solid understanding of the language being used to describe the situation in question. In other words, a proper definition of specific terms must be established. Next, the situation must be analyzed in a non-biased manner, meaning that all possibilities must be considered with no preference given to a particular outcome. The situation in question must be examined from all points of view in order to gather as many truths as possible. An educated decision or claim can only be reached once all possible information has been gathered.
To an agnostic, suggesting the existence of a higher power or an afterlife is like having a hypothesis without a method to test the theory. This lack of evidence means that the scientific method cannot be used to prove or disprove the hypothesis. The truth behind the hypothesis that god exists will remain unresolved. Some philosophers have thus referred to agnosticism as a manner of making skeptical inquiries into human knowledge of spiritual topics. Still, other philosophers have suggested that the imperfect nature of humans means that no claim may be made with the absolute certainty that religions make of god and the afterlife.
Agnosticism And Reality
Several philosophers have attempted to describe the how the human relationship with reality supports agnostic beliefs. One of these philosophers, Immanuel Kant, claimed that humans obtain knowledge through the sensory perception of personal experiences. Humans, however, to not share the exact same perception of reality. Reality can only be understood on an individual level as one person could never understand life as another person has experienced it. Because each person has a different personal reality, the human understanding of supernatural deities is impossible as these deities would be a different thing for each person.
Agnosticism And Religion
Given that agnosticism is rooted in actual knowledge rather than belief, holding agnostic thought or beliefs may be possible while belonging to a particular organized religion. Just because an agnostic person admits to not knowing if the existence of God is real, does not mean that the same agnostic person cannot believe in a supernatural being. In this case, belief and knowledge are not necessarily mutually exclusive and may, therefore, exist together. Additionally, in a religion that requires faith (not belief), agnostic belief is almost a requirement. This is because faith requires the faith holder to confess to a lack of knowledge. In other words, the religious person does not need to know that something is true in order to have faith. In these faith-based religions, acknowledging that the truth is impossible to obtain directly aligns with agnostic belief.
Agnosticism And The Afterlife
Most organized religions attempt to offer an explanation about what happens after a person dies. This explanation generally involves some sort of afterlife, where the human soul is either rewarded or punished for how they chose to live. Other beliefs of the afterlife include: reincarnation, nothing, returning to life in the same body, joining another sort of afterlife that is neither a reward nor a punishment.
According to the scientific method, as used by an agnostic, not all of these possibilities can be true. Therefore, the majority (if not all) of them must be false. In fact, the idea that humans have a soul or that the soul continues to exist over a long period of time is illogical in agnostic reasoning.
Types Of Agnosticism
Agnosticism can be divided into three basic types: strong, weak, and apathetic.
Strong agnosticism, also known as closed or strict, is the idea that humans may never come to know if god, or some other all-powerful deity, actually exists. This inability to know if grounded in the idea that the human experience is a very personal event. This means that what one person experiences or fees in a particular situation may not be what another person feels in the same situation. Because of these differences, the idea of God cannot be agreed upon; therefore, the existence of God is impossible to confirm.
Weak agnosticism, also known as open or empirical, is the idea that humans do not have enough information at this time to ascertain the existence of a deity. This type of agnosticism leaves open the possibility of discovering scientific evidence of god in the future. Because of this lack of evidence and knowledge, weak agnosticism can neither deny nor confirm the existence of god.
Apathetic agnosticism takes the stance that the existence or non-existence of a supreme being is of little to no consequence in the lives of humans. An apathetic agnostic questions the importance of gods, claiming that if they exist, they have done little to influence the lives of humans thus far.
Criticism Of Agnostic Beliefs
Agnosticism has come under criticism from a number of individuals and groups. It is criticized because it places too much importance on material knowledge and proof. Critics also claim that this belief system cannot be applied to daily life because humans may only live under one of two absolutes: god exists or god does not exist.
About the Author
Amber is a freelance writer, English as a foreign language teacher, and Spanish-English translator. She lives with her husband and 3 cats.
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